Story -

Number Eight

Number Eight

October, 1977, Buffalo, New York.

I did it again.

My "homeroom" was the front office. I had it created with a convenient note from my "father" forged so as to make it appear I had a job while attending to my junior year in high school. It allowed me to come in late to school...and, to leave early.

I did amazingly well on the SAT's, enough to somehow get into college, even though I barely had the credits to graduate high school. "Late arrivals and early dismissal" created that issue.

By my junior year, my mind was beyond school. I had my own journey, already set in stone. It continues, stubbornly today.
I've learned so much, yet I haven't.

Rising to amazing realms, yet mired in many of choices made. Matters not, what is lacked in scholastic or vocational "accreditation", was, long ago, more than made up with the roads I traveled, so many I would never have seen with a "masters" in my hand, a doctorate on my wall, or the top rung of a corporate ladder.

Dear Lord, save me, it has been priceless!

I have seen and experienced so much, and even then in 1977, so much...things some kids that age never did, and from my neighborhood, never would.

I did that October morning what I would do almost every day, God help my high school diploma, I walked out of the school building at eleven a.m., having just arrived at nine, staying for a required, four year, English class and a study hall. Then, with the permission granted by the school board and my father, unbeknownst to him (my forgeries were good back then), I hopped into my car and journeyed east to Buffalo.

I stopped at Main and Transit, miles from my real destination, at "Transit Town Plaza". This is where the city bus ended its suburban journey west and head back, and where I would take that bus the rest of the way. I parked my Dodge Challenger and boarded.

"Why" was even the question I asked myself at times back then. The answer was, "the experience".

"What was it like", I wondered "To live on the bus, and by the bus, having to eek out an existence..."existence" being completely foreign to a spoiled rotten suburban child of a business owner; a child who really got anything he wanted.

But still.

I wore my clothes as "city clothes". I wore my hair as "city hair". I wore my attitude as "city attitude".

All of this, never once realizing (of course) that I was a decade or two earlier than so many other "suburban white kids" curious of the urban culture. In 1977, so few were, or if they were, they existed in a closet, playing rhythm and blues almost in secret in their bedrooms in between "Peter Frampton", "Elton John" and "Zeppelin", all as cherished and as needed by the clique within which they lived their "Clarence Senior High" life. Yet none, or very few...because I would have discovered them...ever ventured from the closet.

I did.

They never had the time nor would they do what I was doing, risk their high school diploma, their college education, the "mold" being created, of their coming existence; the things they decided at such early ages they would become....doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, social ombudsmen with myriad doctorates, changing zeitgeists with the wave of their educated hands.

I did not.

Instead, I climbed aboard bus number eight, its destination signage now flipped from "Transit Town" to "Memorial Auditorium". And as it pulled out of the Plaza, my adrenaline grew. Instantly a song came to mind, well, many songs, all soul, all jazz of course, but one in particular.

I heard it a few years back, twelve years old. Perfectly, it played for that first time in my mother's yellow, 1973 Plymouth Satellite as we traveled in an "urban enough" setting; the business section of Williamsville, New York...on the same street as this bus was traveling now and into the same area. The piano, the drums, the guitar, each "syncopated" the realm it was designed to conjure...the rhythm of the song, not bold, just steady... solid, sure of itself...cool...embraced the wet pavement of the streets, the baron sidewalks, having but a few old oaks laid out for miles in front of endless shops and storefronts, the sky, overcast yet not noticed but for the gray tones in the tall buildings as they came closer into view. The people on the sidewalks seemed to walk in cadence with the rhythms from the song, silhouettes under the darkened morning skies, anonymous souls in trench coats and jackets trudging a life I longed to grasp, and unknown to me, soon would.

Still, this song etched into my soul and my being. It became a theme and along with similar melodies and rhythms, would become part of a songbook that is the urban experience for this teenage soul.

Slowly, as we continued our journey into the city, people climbed aboard at each stop. Many of them were dark-skinned middle-aged women, stocky in appearance, wearing heavy coats and underneath seemingly in uniform. Instantly I would recognize them as "cleaning women" having finished morning duties at some of the more affluent homes in East Amherst and Wiiliamsville. They were on their way back home, the inner city and they wore the same expressions, tired, yet somehow tranquil; so comfortable-looking in their existence that it would never occur to me that rent may be past due or the gas may be turned off should they not get to the central billing office downtown in time. None-the-less, they carried on, talking amongst themselves as old familiar friends having made this journey forever on bus number eight.

So this young wiry suburban kid, sat stoically in the back, carrying on a fascinating pretense of being "down with it" immersed in the same realm as each urban soul that climbed the steps into the bus at each stop.

I looked out the windows of the number eight bus as Issac Hayes continued his soundtrack in my head, knowing my journey into the city had just begun, exited for what I would see, hear, feel and smell, knowing I was shaping my being, and molding my future wherever it may lie.

And the number-eight-bus ride never stopped. I'm still on that bus, skipping school, shirking the things others hold dear, and finding my own way; an existence that continues to create profound discoveries and confounds my daily existence.

I live a "Cafe Regio" way of life. Always will.

 

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